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Understanding the Middle East

by Saturday, Feb. 28, 2004 at 1:05 PM

If any one person, viewpoint or source had the “straight story” about the Middle East, it would an easy matter to solve all our problems. It is easy to read a biased summary of “talking points” regarding any issue and march off on a crusade, disseminating more biased opinion and rallying followers to the attack.

Understanding Middle East Events and History I:

Talking Points versus Understanding

Most people do not pay attention to politics and history until they intrude rudely on their every day lives. When a dramatic event occurs, a few will rush off to find sources of information that will explain, in “capsule summaries,” what has happened. Media and Web sites provide many glib and conflicting opinions, designed to boost circulation and promote a viewpoint, not to inform. The opinion makers are polarized according their political bias, and rarely change their ideas because of facts. They assemble facts to suit opinions. Depending on whom you read, the latest disaster is the fault of the Jews, the Moslems, the infidels, the Arabs or the United States. The latest crisis, whatever it is, has inevitably proven both that the anti-Zionist Noam Chomsky and the pro-Zionist Charles Krauthammer were absolutely right in their analyses. The Gush-Shalom movement, the Yesha Council, United Rabbis for Greater Israel, Hamas, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all knew and warned of the impending disaster and all of their contradictory analyses and solutions could have averted it if adopted in time. Likewise the Zionist Organization of America, CAIR and the Arab League can explain to you exactly how they predicted what would happen, and how it came about because nobody listened to them. If you do not believe it, read what they write.

You may get reinforcement for your ideas from such summaries. You may get “talking points” that will allow you to become part of the great parade of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations that substitute for thinking and dialog in our region. In this way, you can impress your friends and dialog partners with pseudo-facts or one line quotes from Gandhi or Herzl or Haj Amin El Husseini or Osama Bin Laden and win arguments: “The Jews became a nation in 1312 BC - there is no such thing as a Palestinian People” or “Jabotinsky said that we have to broom all the Arabs out of Palestine.” It may impress people, but it is probably not a way to find the truth. It is not a way to solve the problem. It is a way to become part of the problem, a soldier in the armies of hate and disinformation.

If you are new to the Middle East and want to find out “who is right?” and what to do about it in three easy lessons, you will be either disappointed or misled. To get a fair idea, you will need to study the original sources, not just summaries prepared by the ZOA or the Arab League or “experts,” or lists of embarrassing quotes. You will need to understand their meaning in the context in which they were produced. The way to knowledge and understanding is a long and arduous process, and that “understanding” must keep changing as events unfold, and as we learn more. That is why so much of the materials at MidEastWeb are not concise summaries or political proclamations but resources: news from different sources, maps, bibliography and historical documents.

Read the sources with care and skepticism. Make sure you understand the context of the sources. Be wary of catchwords such as “terrorist,” ‘Apartheid regime,” “Fascist,” and “ethnic cleansing.” In their original meaning they are perfectly good words. For example, a member of the German National Socialist Workers (Nazi) party, or a follower of Benito Mussolini, was a self-declared Fascist. Some Zionist dissident radicals expressed sympathy with Fascism, and some Palestinian leaders such as the Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini, were Nazi sympathizers and collaborators. However, the mainstream Zionist movement and the current leaders of Israel, as well as present-day Palestinian leaders, do not advocate Fascism. When they are misapplied in a deliberate way, the purpose of these terms is not to inform you but to confuse the issues and substitute emotion for reason.

If any one person, viewpoint or source had the “straight story” about the Middle East, it would an easy matter to solve all our problems. It is easy to read a biased summary of “talking points” regarding any issue and march off on a crusade, disseminating more biased opinion and rallying followers to the attack. We have far too much of that in the Middle East. If you read a “fact,” consider the source. If you hear a news story, check that that it is true. If you see an outrageous quote, make sure the person really said what is attributed to them, and check what else they said and in what context it was said. Getting the facts straight is the beginning of knowledge. Making sure that everyone gets the same facts - all of them - is the beginning of dialog and understanding.

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